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Keywords:

  • Hepatic stellate cell (HSC);
  • liver cirrhosis;
  • small-for-size graft

To investigate whether rapamycin could attenuate hepatic I/R injury in a cirrhotic rat liver transplantation model, we applied a rat orthotopic liver transplantation model using 100% or 50% of liver grafts and cirrhotic recipients. Rapamycin was given (0.2 mg/kg, i.v.) at 30 min before graft harvesting in the donor and 24 h before operation, 30 min before total hepatectomy and immediately after reperfusion in the recipient. Rapamycin significantly improved small-for-size graft survival from 8.3% (1/12) to 66.7% (8/12) (p = 0.027). It also increased 7-day survival rates of whole grafts (58.3%[7/12] vs. 83.3%[10/12], p = 0.371). Activation of hepatic stellate cells was mainly found in small-for-size grafts during the first 7 days after liver transplantation. Rapamycin suppressed expression of smooth muscle actin, which is a marker of hepatic stellate cell activation, especially in small-for-size grafts. Intragraft protein expression and mRNA levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) were down-regulated by rapamycin at 48 h both in whole and small-for-size grafts. Consistently, mRNA levels and protein expression of Rho and ROCK I were decreased by rapamycin during the 48 h after liver transplantation. In conclusion, rapamycin attenuated graft injury in a cirrhotic rat liver transplantation model by suppression of hepatic stellate cell activation, related to down-regulation of Rho-ROCK-VEGF pathway.